Mobile County Circuit Judge Jim Patterson has once again filed an order from the bench that’s drawn national attention to the state of Alabama’s struggle to fund its judicial system.
After a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit requested an upcoming trial date reset, Patterson let him know — in no uncertain terms — changing the date could delay the trial for several months due to the effects state funding has had on Mobile County’s caseload.
“It’s your case,” Patterson wrote. “Please don’t expect a quick reset since jury terms are fewer and farther between in 2019 because the 13th Circuit is so dead-ass broke.”
It was a rather blunt way of framing the financial troubles local courts and others around the state have faced in recent years, especially for an order submitted by a sitting judge. Patterson’s order, filed Dec. 20, was quickly picked up and written about on legal blogs.
However, it’s not the first time one of Patterson’s orders has set the legal community abuzz, it’s not the first time he’s drawn widespread attention to Alabama’s judicial funding problems and it’s not even the first time he’s publicly described state courts as “dead-ass broke.”
Lam Loung, who was convicted of killing his four children in 2009 by throwing them off the Dauphin Island Bridge, came before Patterson in January as part of an appeal initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union. But when the organization asked the court to appoint Loung a better Vietnamese interpreter, Patterson said Alabama’s struggling judicial system shouldn’t be the one to pick up the tab for it.
From the bench, Patterson told the ACLU the judicial system was “dead-ass broke,” going further to describe it as “a single wide mobile home with one tire flat.”
Again over the summer, an order Patterson filed resetting a trial in a civil lawsuit also drew attention for noting local judges “literally had to beg for money to keep the circuit afloat” — referring to allocations the Mobile County Commission made to shore up local courts.
Then in October, Patterson caused a stir when he entered an injunction in a pending criminal case declaring that Alabama laws directing fees collected in local courts be redistributed to state administrative functions are unconstitutional as applied. He also ordered the local circuit clerk to stop sending payments statutorily required to be made to state coffers.
Patterson has been perhaps the most vocal judge about funding constraints in local courts, but others on the bench have been working behind the scenes with Mobile County’s delegation of legislators to develop a local bill to generate additional funding by increasing local court fees.
Presiding Judge John Lockett has previously said generating funding through court fees isn’t an ideal solution but will help prevent additional layoffs in the clerk’s office that, up until this point, have only been staved off by contributions from the county that commissioners are not obligated to make.
That bill is expected to be taken up by legislators during 2019 regular session.